The H3N2 virus, which was responsible for infecting a large number of dogs in the Midwest last year, appears to be transmittable to cats as well. The Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin has confirmed that the virus has infected a group of cats in the region.

“Suspicions of an outbreak in the cats were initially raised when a group of them displayed unusual signs of respiratory disease,” says clinical assistant professor and director of the Shelter Medicine program, Sandra Newbury. “While this first confirmed report of multiple cats testing positive for canine influenza in the U.S. shows the virus can affect cats, we hope that infections and illness in felines will continue to be quite rare.”

It was already known that the virus could infect cats when some cases were reported in South Korea. Last year, one cat tested positive in the US. All of this suggests that the virus can replicate and spread from cat to cat.

Preliminary work to study the genetic signature of the virus that infected the shelter cats shows it to be identical to the H3N2 virus that infects dogs. Researchers and the UW Shelter Medicine team are working closely with the animal shelter to manage the influenza outbreak. “At this time, all of the infected cats have been quarantined, and no infected cats or dogs have left this shelter,” Newbury says. “We will continue to watch carefully for instances of the disease.”

What does this mean for your cat?

This new information shows that when it comes to flu viruses, nothing stays constant. Viruses mutate, and new viruses appear. An H3N2 vaccine is currently available for dogs, but no vaccine is available for cats.

Symptoms in the infected cats have been similar to those seen in dogs: runny nose, congestion and general malaise, as well as lip smacking and excessive salivation. Symptoms have resolved quickly and so far, the virus has not been fatal in cats.

It’s impossible to know whether this outbreak is an isolated incident, or whether it’s a harbinger of things to come. Only time will tell. If your cat shows flu-like symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

For more information, please visit the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine website.

7 Comments on Canine Influenza Virus Can Affect Cats

  1. In Victoria Australia – I’ve been fighting a virus for over a week and one of my indoor cats has suddenly started snotty sneezing, quack coughing and has eye discharge. (All discharges clear) she hasn’t been exposed to other animals. My other cat is on oral chemo right now so this is a big deal. Read up and 6 months ago H1N3 was going around the current flu vaccination contains it. I had H1N3 in the US Hong Kong flu epidemic which may explain my suppressed response – I have immunity but leaves the very real possibility that I may have passed it to the cat!

  2. Hopefully an isolated incident. My cats had a ‘cat flu’ as I called it last summer, it spread through them like a cold does with young schoolchildren. Luckily we only had one emergency vet visit, one if my boys had a high fever and was dehydrated. It was so scary though, it lasted about a week but to me it felt like months. I hope we don’t see any easily spreadable viruses thus year, I always get nervous taking my guys to the vet for routine visits thinking they’ll catch something, I know it’s mostly an irrational fear and probably never has happened but I still do it.

    • It is scary when a virus makes its way through a household. I’m glad everyone is okay, Raine. Unfortunately, there’s always a chance that your cats can pick up something at the vet’s, but most vets are very careful about ensuring that that doesn’t happen.

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